Born Mikayla Simpson in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Koffee has been blazing a trail for herself, her island, and the entire world of reggae since the release of her first official single “Burning” in 2018. This year, the singjay was blessed to bring home a GRAMMY for her mother and her country, winning Best Reggae Album for her debut EP, Rapture—becoming the first woman and the youngest recipient to win the coveted award in the history of the category at the age of 19.
I first met Koffee in October 2017 at Stones Throw Bar in Kingston, Jamaica. I was preparing to DJ that night, and she was being interviewed for Reggaeville. She was 16 going on 17 with two songs at the time: “Burning,” a passionate reggae tune, and “Legend,” her tribute to Usain Bolt, which captured the attention of the Olympic gold medalist himself and the hearts of many more.
When I asked Koffee how long she had been making music, she paused, started counting on her fingers, then flashed her signature bright eyes and disarming smile. “About four, five months,” she said proudly. I was shocked and impressed. It was apparent to me her gift was given from the Most High, and there was a significance to her timing in the industry.
“The making of Rapture represented a turning point in my music journey (hence the name), and I wanted each of the songs to highlight that,” Koffee recently shared via email. “I wanted to put myself out there in a powerful way; Rapture was my way of establishing my name as someone who came on the scene to make a positive impact. I am grateful to have worked with all the amazing producers on this EP and, of course, Jane [Macgizmo], who’s the featured artist on ‘Blazin.’ When I was awarded the GRAMMY, it felt so surreal. I am grateful, and as I said in my acceptance speech, the win is really for reggae on the whole.”
Koffee’s 2020 win for Rapture was a turning point for reggae. Anyone can recognize a Marley surname, for example, but many may not be familiar enough with the genre to nominate up-and-coming talent. Koffee’s win felt symbolic; it felt like a door opener for the new guard of reggae music. When the GRAMMYs announced the nomination, there was some pushback. The selection vexed reggae traditionalists and purists. Some felt Koffee was too young and needed more time to develop her craft. The buzz and impact of the EP missed them entirely.
Despite the comments surrounding Koffee’s gender, age, sound, and everything in between, her fan base continues to grow, with numerous high-profile fans from Rihanna and Lil Uzi Vert to The Obamas and JAY-Z—both of whom included “Toast” on their end-of-year playlists in 2019.
Rapture’s win opened up another discussion: how to classify Koffee’s unique sound. Is it reggae? Dancehall? Hip-hop? She’s Jamaican and sings in patois (or singjaying as it’s called in the world of dancehall) but also raps in a way that places her alongside artists like Gunna and Burna Boy. Rapture marked a new dawn in Jamaican music, which tends to birth a new genre every decade or so, from ska and rock steady to what we now call reggae and dancehall. Meaning, Koffee is but one in a long line of Jamaican innovators.
To celebrate Koffee, Rapture, and this pivotal moment in reggae, we spoke with the award-winning and diverse team of producers who crafted Rapture’s unique and signature sound.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
What were your initial thoughts when you heard the entire project?
IzyBeats: GRAMMY! When I heard the entire body of work, I knew it would culturally change the game, and it did. Happy to be a part of it and looking forward to doing more work.
Sean Alaric: I didn’t hear the entire project until the day it was released. By then, “Toast” was already a huge hit, so when I listened to the rest of the songs, I loved the sound and direction she was going in. I knew it was going to be major.
Teflon ZincFence: It was very different, and it had different sounds mixing with the reggae. I thought, “Wow, something refreshing and different is coming out of Jamaica!”
SOS Dynamikz: I just thought Koffee is the most lyrical female in reggae/dancehall. In Jamaica, period. The whole project deserved a GRAMMY.
Echo Slim: When I first heard Rapture, I immediately needed to know who the other producers were. All the tracks are fire. Koffee delivered on each of them, and each track flowed into the other so well. One of the best bodies of work I heard in a while.
Dre Day: Very first time they sent over the project files, I opened each song and played them to get a good listen. Just to feel the vibe. We fused each song with fresh sounds and flows. I said to myself, “This project is nice,” and I knew I would have fun mixing them.
What was it like working with Koffee and her team?
IzyBeats: Koffee is amazing. She is so talented, made my job super easy. The chemistry was great, and we had a great time recording. Her team is supportive and focused on her goals.
Sean Alaric: It was great, actually one of the easier projects I’ve been involved with. We knew what we were doing was something new and fresh for reggae, and I was excited to be a part of what is now a historic project.
Echo Slim: It was an enjoyable learning experience. We were instantly fans of Koffee when she first came on the scene, but when we heard her lyrics on “Throne,” we were impressed with her skill level. Koffee’s entire team is great. They took her to a new level, and since all the producers were linked to this amazing body of work, we also leveled up.
Dre Day: When I finished mixing a couple of the songs, we set a day and time that Koffee and her team could come and listen. When I hit the first track, which was “Blazin,” it was all smiles. I had to pull up the song about five times before it could even finish.
Another thing I noticed with her was she knew what she wanted to hear, and for such a young age that was special.
“Throne” has such a regal and distinct sound. How would you describe the record, and what influences your production?
Sean Alaric: “Throne” is a blend of hip-hop and reggae. It’s an old reggae sample from the ‘70s combined with modern hip-hop drums. A lot of my influence comes from my love of reggae/dancehall from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. I try to recreate those vibes with a modern sound.
Nicko Rebel: Being raised in Jamaica aided in that distinct sound. I’ve been blessed to be exposed to various sounds, which I absorb and somehow make a dope musical paella.
Echo Slim: “Throne” to me is a vintage reggae hybrid with some trap and dubstep influences. My production tends to have a little of everything I grew up listening to, which is a wide array of musical genres.
How did the song come together?
Sean Alaric: Nicko Rebel, Echo Slim, and I linked up to work on music as we always do. This particular night we came up with the beat for “Throne,” and it was later sent to Walshy Fire. A couple of weeks later, he sent us a voice note with Koffee recording the song.
Echo Slim: This song would not be possible without reggae pioneer, Mr. Bunny Striker Lee. I was able to work with him and his family and gain access to his extensive catalog of music. We were able to sample one of his classic songs for “Throne.” Months later, myself, Nicko Rebel, and Sean Alaric linked up at the great Rebel Kultcha Studios, and we created the song. When it was done, we felt good about it. We had no clue that it would eventually be heard by Koffee and chosen to be on Rapture. Big up the Great Walshy Fire for the link. He also helped with the arrangement of the track.
“Blazin” is a power track from start to finish and has become a fan favorite around the world. How did the song come together?
Teflon: Once I saw Koffee at the studio and saw her talent, I knew I was going to work with her. So I linked with her one day and played some tracks for her, and she chose the instrumental for “Blazin.” After taking it home and listening to it again, she wasn’t sure what to put on it. Then, Jane said to me I should let her put a hook on it. Meanwhile, Koffee said the same thing to me without even knowing Jane had said that. Jane laid down the hook without Koffee, and then she sent her verses. We came together at Big Yard to finalize it with additional vocals and any edits we thought it needed.
SOS Dynamikz: I was having a bad day, and Teflon just gave me the sample. I did the strumming of the organs. I put the trumpets in. He did the drum kick for the verse, I did the drum kick and the bass line for the hook, and he did the fill-ins. When Jane was listening to the song, she came up with the hook. She was mumbling at the time before she came up with the words.
“Rapture” is such a beautiful and significant record. Spiritually, what do you think makes it so meaningful?
Ace Harris: It’s special because it’s substantive music, conscious lyrics over danceable rhythms. Always a great combo when a song gets people to move first and sparks them to think shortly after. Koffee is conveying her confidence in her God-given gifts and encouraging us to fight back against negativity, jealousy, or anything that is trying to block our blessings. And her bars are crazy while doing it! So even though she’s saying something uplifting, you gotta respect the craft in the pen.
Ace, you also work with a lot of faith-based and gospel artists as an A&R for Reach Records. How does that influence your sound?
Ace: It’s just a part of me. I’m a preacher’s kid, grew up in the church, and have been on a faith journey all my life. So working with artists like Lecrae and Andy Mineo is just a natural pocket for me. And I’ve worked with non-faith-based artists too, which I’m always down for. It’s just when I work on songs that are inspirational my production tends to shine in a unique way. I feel like my faith and my Liberian heritage shape my production style.
Teflon, you already had one GRAMMY under your belt. At what point did you feel that Rapture could be a GRAMMY-Award winning project?
Teflon: Thank you! I didn’t even think about it in a GRAMMY sense because I didn’t even know it was going to enter. Once it was nominated, I knew it was gonna win because it was different from everything else out there.
What about everyone else? When did you each have a sense this could win a GRAMMY?
IzyBeats: After seeing the impact of “Toast” and the “Rapture” single dropping right after, I knew after that. No doubt about it.
Sean Alaric: Once the project was out, I began seeing the reaction it was getting from fans and people in the industry. Many artists, including Rihanna, were posting themselves listening to Koffee. With that type of momentum, the idea of a GRAMMY win started crossing my mind. When she got the GRAMMY nomination, I knew she had a good chance at winning.
Nicko Rebel: When it hit Billboard.
Echo Slim: When Koffee debuted No. 1 on the Billboard Reggae charts, we had a good feeling she could carry the momentum to the GRAMMYs. And thanks to her team, she did—respect to Koffee and her team.
Ace Harris: I thought about it in the fall of 2019. For her to be a relatively new artist on the scene and win a GRAMMY on her first project is special. And for me to have produced the title track of that EP, it was a huge highlight for me that I’m forever grateful for.
Dre Day: Honestly, I would say Koffee was just making good music, and I was, too. Not sure about Koffee, but I never even thought about a GRAMMY. I was just doing what I love so the world can hear what we love so much. She was already making great songs. To me, the GRAMMY is just toppings. But I am grateful for the project to be nominated, and win at that. Really and truly blessed for it. I hope we can do this again next year.